An Appeal to Obey Marching Orders

Churches must remain focused on Christ’s mission to avoid expending disproportionate energy on lesser concerns.

Editor’s Note: This article by Vance Havner was originally published in the December 1950 issue of Message magazine and is being republished as part of the Voices of the Past series. Original style conventions have been retained, as well as some outdated terminology, out of respect to the original work.

Now and then, various church bodies announce that during the coming year they expect to major in evangelism.

Someone has said that such a statement is like a railroad company announcing that it will major in transportation. The business of a railroad is transportation, and the business of a church is evangelism. It is God’s chief business for His church any time.

The early church began with a group of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit, witnessing and winning others. They were out to know Christ and to make Him known. Just to be Christians and to persuade others to be Christians. 

Following Jesus, they became Fishers of Men. They had a story to tell to the nations, and they told it everywhere. They were not out to dispense good advice, but to declare good news. They gossiped the Gospel to high and low, in season, and out, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But the simple tends to become complex, and so there grew up a vast organization that became an end to itself. It became so occupied with keeping its machinery moving that it could be likened to an oil mill that exported no oil, because it took all the oil to grease its own machinery. Spiritual movements start with men, then run through successive stages of movement, machinery, and finally end as monuments. After a while, proselyting members take the place of winning souls and God writes Ichabod over the concern and starts afresh somewhere else. 

Our Lord said “he that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad.” Christ is the great gatherer, and the only way we can assist Him in His gathering is by winning the lost. Mind you, He said, “he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad.” It is very evident that any Christian who is not engaged in gathering with his Lord, is working against Him. It is not going to church, singing in the choir, or raising money that identifies us with the great Gatherer, but soul winning. 

There is no better evidence of genuine faith in an individual Christian than a passionate desire to make Christ known to others. There is no better proof of the true church, but we live in a day of good tidings and hold our peace. The redeemed of the Lord do not say so. We are like Arctic Rivers frozen at the mouth. The church is dissipating her devotion on a thousand concerns, dribbling her energies on secondary issues. We have so many irons in the fire that none of them are hot. We need not only consecration, but concentration to our main business of evangelism. We have heard of a Lighthouse Keeper who was supplied with a certain amount of oil with which to keep his light shining, but with the best of intentions, he loaned some of it to a fisherman for his boat, and some more he gave to a villager for his lamp. Thus he dribbled his oil here and there. One night a fierce storm arose and ships went down and lives were lost because the oil gave out in the lighthouse and the beacon failed to shine. The church has wasted her oil these days on causes, some of which may be worthy enough in themselves, but she has forgotten that “dark the night of sin hath settled, loud the angry billows roar, eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore.” We are failing lost men and women because we have neglected our main business of sending the Gospel light. The crisis of this hour will never be met by clever little talks on current events and cookie munching in church basements. How selfish we are to stuff ourselves with Gospel truth while multitudes have never heard. When the disciples served the loaves and fishes to the thousands, they did not keep feeding the front row, they reached the last man on the back row. Shame on us, that we gorge ourselves while millions starve for the lack of the Gospel. Our Lord’s marching orders were to “go into all the world” making disciples. How slow we have been from the start. Even the Jerusalem saints at the very outset began to settle at the center so that God had to send persecution to scatter them to the circumference. We cannot sit huddled over our own coals in smug mutual-congratulation societies behind tons of bricks. If we do not invade the circumference, the circumference will invade us. 

We are saved to tell others, and may God awaken us from our ease in Zion, our playing around with a multitude of little things, until we quit majoring in the minor and minoring in the major. Any church whose business is not God’s business will soon be out of business.

Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted in Message magazine in 1950 by permission of Christ for America.